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Nansemonds begin talks about land transfer for Mattanock Town

SUFFOLK, Va. - The Suffolk City Council will begin negotiations with the Nansemond Indian Tribe for the transfer of property for an authentic American Indian village.

But the location of the property the tribe will receive remains uncertain.

The Nansemond Indian Tribal Association asked the city in 2001 for 104 acres of land along the Nansemond River in central Suffolk, where researchers say the tribe's original village called Mattanock Town, found on Capt. John Smith's map, existed.

For six years, the tribe has worked with the city, providing a business plan, a feasibility study, a development plan and a preliminary funding plan, among many other requests by Suffolk officials.

Despite some council members' concerns about the location of the village, the Nansemonds have moved a step closer on the project.

''We're just going to keep on working on the project,'' said Nansemond Chief Barry Bass. ''We have support.''

While the City Council voted Aug. 15 to begin negotiations to transfer land to the tribe, Councilmen Leroy Bennett and Charles Brown voted against the proposal.

The council will need to vote again on which property to deed to the Nansemonds. The final vote will require at least six members to support the transfer, and no timeline for that vote is available.

Brown and Bennett agreed giving the tribe the land was ''the right thing to do,'' but both council members suggested offering land at another site because the proposed site needs road improvements that could be costly to the city.

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Bass and Dot Dalton of the Nansemond Tribe said if the tribe receives a deed to the land, grants would provide the funding for road improvements.

Nansemond Sandy McCready told the council each time she visits the proposed site, the location of the tribe's annual pow wow, she feels the presence of her ancestors there.

''Our ancestors walked, hunted and fished on the land,'' McCready said.

Many of the Nansemond elders, including McCready's mother, wanted to see the village constructed but have passed on, she said.

''This was their dream,'' McCready said.

Keith Smith, Nansemond tribal council member, said Mattanock Town would be the largest American Indian village on tribal property on the East Coast. Along with a village, the Mattanock Town project also would include a camping and picnic area, pow wow facilities, nature and hiking trails, reburial grounds and a tribal center.

The village would provide many educational opportunities as well as increase interest in Suffolk, said Andrew Anderson, Cherokee and a retired educator. Teachers from France visited the Nansemonds' pow wow in 2003 and took with them information about American Indians as well as the city, Anderson said.

The Nansemonds have worked with the Regent University graduate schools of business and law in preparing plans for the village. John Mulford, the Regent University Center for Entrepreneurship director, told the council that Suffolk has a rich history, but its American Indian history has been less visible.

''But Mattanock Town would contribute to this,'' Mulford said.